Law would give victims of stalker options
Bill needs one more vote in state Assembly before Gov. can sign legislation
BY REBECCA MORTON Staff Writer
With a unanimous vote the state Senate passed a bill that would make it easier for police to assist the victim of a stalker.
The action came during the Senate's final voting session of 2008 on Dec. 15.
"I am pleased to join with my colleague, Sen. Buono, in sponsoring this landmark legislation that will broaden protections for stalking victims. This measure will simply let women live free from fear," Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth and Mercer) said of the bill she sponsored.
The legislation was sponsored by Beck and Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex).
Initially introduced in June 2007 by former Assemblyman Mike Panter (D-Monmouth and Mercer), the bill has undergone some changes from the version that the Assembly unanimously passed March 13.
Changes included the removal of a section that related to mental suffering or distress. Originally, the bill stated that emotional stress was defined as significant mental suffering or distress, that may, but does not necessarily require medical or other professional treatment or counseling. The bill now reads that emotional stress is defined as significant mental suffering or distress, leaving no mention of medically proving that state.
Also changed was the degree of the penalty if an individual is convicted of stalking. Initially the bill sought to make stalking a third-degree crime, but changes have been made to maintain the crime at a fourth-degree level for a first offense.
Tom Fitzsimmons of Beck's office explained that the amended version will return to the state Assembly for a revote in 2009. The Assembly also met on Dec. 15 for its last session of the year.
According to the New Jersey Legislature's Web site, the Assembly will meet again for voting Feb. 5. If the bill is placed on that day's agenda and is once again passed in the Assembly, the governor can then sign it into law.
The bill will expand the current stalking law to include conduct that causes a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of a third person or to suffer emotional distress. The bill also amends the definition of course of conduct to include directly or indirectly or through a third person or by device to follow, monitor, surveilling, threaten or communicating to or about a person. It also covers interfering with a person's property and repeatedly committing harassment against a person.
"Technological advances require that the Legislature update and amend current statutes to ensure that the victims of stalking receive the best available protection," Beck said, citing global positioning systems and easily concealed cameras that furnish stalkers with the means to harass another individual.
Law enforcement officials have previously stated in Greater Media Newspapers that the current law limits their actions unless a direct threat is made against the victim.
The bill was initially drafted with the assistance of a Monmouth County woman who is a victim of stalking, along with input from Manalapan Police Chief Stuart Brown, Marlboro police Detective Sgt. Paul Reed and Marlboro police Detective Ross Yenisey. The bill received additional information from the National Center for Victims of Crime, Washington, D.C., and the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women.
Violators of the law would be punishable by a term of imprisonment not to exceed 18 months, a maximum fine of $10,000 or both. Violators who commit a second or subsequent offense are guilty of a crime of the third degree punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of five years, a fine of $15,000 or both.
January is National Stalking Awareness Month, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime. The center reports that 1,006,970 women and 370,990 men are stalked annually.